Underwater Archaeologists Are Exploring an Undisturbed World War II Battlefield
North Carolina’s coast offers up war wrecks
by SARAH EMERSON
Two years ago, archaeologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, discovered something incredible at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Just off the coast of North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras, a sunken German U-boat had been silently resting since the end of World War II.
What NOAA scientists found that day was an underwater graveyard created by the “Battle of the Atlantic,” or the longest military campaign of World War II. The six year battle began in 1939, when war was waged between Allied merchant and supply ships, and Germany’s submarines and destroyers.
Now the agency has announced it will visit Cape Hatteras once again, in a research expedition aimed at virtually recreating the underwater graveyard. NOAA scientists will be descending in manned submersibles to collect bathymetric data, using robots and advanced remote sensing technology.
With the help of University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute, the agency should be able to generate three-dimensional models of the battlefield.
“This discovery is the only known location in U.S. waters that contains archaeologically preserved remains of a convoy battle where both sides are so close together,” Joe Hoyt, the mission’s chief scientist and archaeologist at the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said in a statement. “By studying this site for the first time, we hope to learn more about the battle, as well as the natural habitats surrounding the shipwrecks.”
Winston Churchill, British prime minister during World War II, described the Battle of the Atlantic as a turning point in the war. “Everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air, depended ultimately on its outcome,” Churchill explained.
German forces hoped to intercept the rations and military supplies being shipped from North America to Britain. Had they succeeded in cutting off Britain’s lifeline over the Atlantic, perhaps the war might have ended differently.
On July 15, 1942 near North Carolina, the German U-boat U-576 succeeded in destroying the American merchant tanker SS Bluefields. Within minutes, however, U.S. Navy forces overtook U-576. Today the submarines lies interred just 240 yards from Bluefields.
The mission expands on NOAA’s Graveyard of the Atlantic project, which explores shipwrecks from World War I, World War II and the Civil War off of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Archaeologists will be visiting the site through Sept. 6, and their findings will help to inform whether additional environmental protections are needed in the historic area.
“The significance of these sites cannot be overstated,” David Alberg, a superintendent at the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said in a statement.
This area off North Carolina is the best representation of a World War II battlefield off the U.S. East Coast.” “Now, working with our partners, we have an opportunity to study it, characterize it, and, like other historic battlefields in this country, hopefully protect it.”
This story originally appeared at motherboard.vice.com.